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grooves on paper

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by chris griffiths, Aug 21, 2002.


  1. chris griffiths

    chris griffiths

    Aug 20, 2002
    nashville tn
    Endorsing artist: Gallien Krueger
    Hey I was just wondering how do you take a chart and make it music and not sound like paper. I go to berklee I play with a lot of ensembles and I always try to just be myself and play the notes on the page however it comes out of me but sometimes I hear certain piano players or drummers (especially drummes) or bass players play it like midi right off the paper. When you guys are on a gig and someone gives you a chart what goes through your mind when you turn it to music. Just looking for a little mindset. Thanks you guys rock
     
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Good question!

    for the most part, the only gigs where I get fully written music are theatre gigs, and the occasional standard where I don't already know the melody.

    The trick for me is 'hearing' the music before I play it - looking at the tune and trying to see what's happening stylistically before it happens. It's a jazz tune? how is it going to swing? is it country, what kind of feel is going to sit right? etc. etc.

    Most of the time, you get a few minutes to run through things before being thrown in to play it (I can count on one hand the number of times I've had to sight read music I've NEVER seen before in front of an audience) - so in that time, I focus on establishing what kind of tune it is, and how the vibe is going to go. I do this partly as a safety mechanism, so that if I or someone else on the gig goes off, I can play it by ear, having some idea of what's going on...

    for the most part, I'd view what's written as a very simple guide to where the pitches lie, and the vague area in the bar where the notes are going to happen - especially if I'm playing the tune. The sound, the feel, the articulation (unless it's marked) and even dynamics are more often than not, down to me. I guess it comes down to working out what the aspects of music are, and seeing how many are communicated on the page - for example -

    pitch - that's pretty solid, though you can slur notes, or bend then to personalise that information as well.
    rhythm - for a groove, the 'beat placement' is set, but whether you play it ahead, behind or on top of the beat is down to you and the drummer, and how staccato/legato/muted the vibe is is often open to negotation, and that all alters how it feels.
    sound - totally down to you. The part says 'bass guitar' at the top, the rest is up to you... :)
    articulation - sometimes marked (slurs, bends, hammer-ons) more often than not on pop charts though, it's left out, so that's down to you, to add some spice.
    if you're playing the tune and it's not a unison line, many more of these parameters can be altered and personalised.

    I hope that helps a little...

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I've told this story before, but thought it might be relevant in this context! So, I went to see the Bobby Wellins quartet at my local Jazz club and the rhythm section - piano, bass, drums - were very relaxed and playing well on a set of Jazz standards.

    Then suddenly Bobby Wellins reached into his bag and pulled out two dog-eared pieces of A4 sheet music and planted them in front of the bass player and pianist. Without a pause he launched into the head of an original slow ballad with quite unusual changes ! He finished the head and then walked to the side of the stage expectantly. The bass player by now was very red in the face and was clearly struggling, as was the pianist; but both were great players and pulled off respectable solos, but were clearly exhausted by this!

    I mentioned it later to another person in the crowd who is a Jazz pro, with whom I have had lessons and he said "Old Pros trick - the pages probably had coffee stains where some of the trickier chords occurred as well! " ;)

    I wonder if they prepare you for this sort of thing at Berklee? ;)
     
  4. chris griffiths

    chris griffiths

    Aug 20, 2002
    nashville tn
    Endorsing artist: Gallien Krueger
    oh man every thursday I had to sight read 4 new songs with specific lines over some fairly strange chord changes (not your typical real book stuff) and had to get the nuance stuff too while My hungover ensemble instructor sat in the corner and bit peoples heads off....boy I miss that
     
  5. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    I've been thinking about this anecdote since I read it a few days ago and I just don't get it?

    Is it supposed to draw the best from the musicans by forcing them to play something they don't properly understand or know in front of a live audience... or is it to catch them out by giving them something very complex, new and not properly presented?

    I understand the concept of giving a great musician something new to play live to make the music fresh, but 'testing' them seems elitest, arrogant and downright wanky, maybe I misunderstand?

    This guy has put together his own composition, so why does he get pleasure from potentially humiliating the other musicians and potentially having his own work murdered live? It's like some sort of jazzos challenge "see if you can keep up with me, cats"?

    He knows the piece beforehand so it's not like he's in the same position as them and he's probably not going to get the best out of them by only providing half the info?

    This may be a common thing, but I think it's crap!
     
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - this is the sort of thing....I just think it's funny - as long as it doesn't happen to me! ;) I think the serious intention is as an antidote to complacency or over-confidence! So - never allow yourself to feel too comfortable and always concentrate at your maximum whther you think you need to or not!

    Jaco was said to try to "blow people out" or put them off - you can hear it on live recordings -where he is the only one keeping the form going he will stop or play something way "out" - apparently to see if the soloists could keep up and keep their place!! ;)
     
  7. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    I've got to agree with Howard here - that's the kind of macho, self-obsessed arrogant horse-s**t that puts people off playing jazz. trying to 'blow people off' is just ego-mania. Jaco or no Jaco. If I'm playing with musicians, especially if they aren't as experienced as me, I'll do everything I can to make the experience positive for them, to help them along and increase their confidence in their own playing. The irony of saying that it's about keeping people in their place is that anyone who assumes it's their job to put someone else in their place is doing exactly the same thing, and elevating themselves to a position that they don't deserve. If you don't like how someone plays, don't play with them - getting on the bandstand with someone and then seeking to humiliate them or 'test' them in someway is crass beyond belief.

    It's weird - the history of jazz is littered with examples of musicians who were ground-breaking in their way and yet still incredibly closed minded in their approach to sharing the music and promoting musicians.

    Funnily enough, you very rarely hear about women behaving in that way... maybe we could learn something there.

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Yeah, that's what I thought. It is arrogant then, but I can see the point, just! :)

    A fair point on JPs part, but rather antagonistic all the same!

    Pretty much completely off topic, I read somehere that Charles Mingues once freaked out at a gig, slammed the lid down on the pianists fingers, punched the trombone player in the face and stormed of stage!
    Maybe someone miss-read a change through one of his coffee stains?!
     
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    I was almost going to make that point, but I couldnt put it into words.

    I do understand and appreciate the idea of encouraging people to take new and personally unchartered directions, but for a player to consider themselves worthy of testing the others is a bit too much.

    Also, it could be argued that Jacos place as bass player in a jazz band was to keep the form so the soloists could wander off and back again?

    ...maybe he genuinely cocked up! :eek:
     
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think that having met some of these people - it's quite "light-hearted" - like a friendly rivalry - so I know that some of these people go for lessons with each other, in order to keep improving. It's like footballers who play practical jokes on each other but at a more "cerebral" level!! ;)

    But I think there is a serious point - most of the Jazz musicians I have met are very happy to share knowledge and chat all day about how to improve. But in the end, none of this prepares you for the cut-throat world of getting and keeping gigs - so in some cases maybe the message of "staying alert" is the most relevant leson and something that can only be taught by "practical example"!! ;)

    I think the last point about men and women is valid - so I have met many Jazz musicians including some women - and the men are always more competitive, even if it is only in a "joky" way. But I think this is what drives them on to improve as players and without it, they just woudn't have the motivation to keep going.

    So , I have talked to some very good Jazz players who are women and they always bemoan this competitive element - maybe why you don't see as many women in Jazz? Whereas if you look at the major orchestras in Britain they are full of women - maybe they feel this is more collaborative and more in keeping with the way they see music-making?
     
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    No - there's are loads of Jaco stories about this - and there's no doubting he was supremely arrogant. Can you imagine anyone else going up to Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter - who had played with all the greats in Jazz previously - and saying "I'm the best bass player in the world!" :D

    I think he liked comptetitive sports and viewed Jazz as like those basketball games - one on one - the idea was to beat the other guy and prove your superiority.

    I know that Jaco was a special case and he did have a mental illness, but I think that if you are going to land what you see as the top gig in your world, then you have to be very determined, highly competitive and have supreme self-confidence ... but these qualities don't necessarily go along with being fun to be with! ;)
     
  12. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Yeah, interesting... I know loads of women who play instruments (cue crap jokes), and the majority have played big bands or orchestras, whereas practically all the men I know who play music play in bands. I associate the ego 'rock-star' dream thing with men more than women too.. and yes I do include myself in that statement!

    Although nowdays my desire to be a rock star is dwindling while my desire to be a bass player of any sort is growing.
     
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - as I said - you can be a great musician, but not necessarily be fun to work with! ;) A local Jazz band, some of whom I know had simiar situation. So the leader was/is a trombonist and he and the alto sax player came to blows in the middle of play. But being the leader and about twice the size - they changed their alto sax player! ;)
     
  14. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    ....that's such a HUGE cop-out. I'm currently organising a discussion forum on the issue of competition vs creativity - it'll touch on issues for education, personal development, the arts and loads of other stuff, so I've been thinking about this a lot recently.

    If someone's only motivation for playing is to be better than everyone else, I'd suggest that perhaps they'd be better off not playing... the personal damage that that kind of thinking can do is pretty big... as we've seen, that kind of macho thinking leads people to try and show up people on the bandstand, to talk in crass competitive terms about what they do, and look for ways of setting themselves apart as the best at this or that... ultimately it's destructive. The urge to create is innate within each of us in some form or another - call it God-given or instinct - and I think it's a social/cultural construct to hijack that as being a need to be better than others in a sporty way... It seems lazy to motivate yourself by attempting to elevate yourself above others rather than seeking to communicate through your art, to say something, to embody some kind of concept, or aesthetic or to just explore aspects of your personality through your music.


    There's a element of that, but it's still a social construct - orchestras are just presented to women as a viable option through media images and school music lessons, whereas playing your heart out on a tenor sax is seen as a bit sweaty and testosterone ladened, which is clearly nonsense... :)

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  15. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    I was kidding!!!

    Thing is, no matter if he was the greatest bass player in the world he was still a total dick to say it. It's soooo subjective and there are and have been so many great bass players.
     
  16. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Coupla things - firstly, it's WAY WAY WAY more important to be a nice person that it is to be a great musician. If your musical persuits are turning you into a snugglemuffin, quit. It ain't worth it. No matter what Miles Davis or James Brown acheived in music, the minute they started beating up their wives/girlfriends, they should both have been locked up. Sorry, guys, genius is no excuse for being a bastard...

    secondly, you don't have to be competitive to be anything. Michael Manring, my esteemed co-moderator here has been voted world's greatest bassist in any number of polls. He crops up in loads of people's lists of all time favourite musicians, let alone bassists, and has sold thousands of albums etc. etc. (hope I'm not embarrassing you, dear boy! :) ) but I have NEVER heard Michael utter a single sentence designed to make him appear more important/worthy/better than any other bassist. He always talks in terms of his own musical journey, where he's going, who is inspiring him. Have a read of the article in the brand new issue of Bass Guitar Magazine, where Michael and I interview eachother - I think it's a pretty good insight into where we're both coming from, and he doesn't once talk about being the best...

    Jaco was a one-off. His music was in many ways a product of his mental ill-health, and his personality quirks/flaws. He made some world-changing music, but it's still a shame that he felt the need to behave in that way to do it. Maybe Joe Zawinul wouldn't have listened to him if he hadn't had that bravado... who knows, I'm sure he's music would have got out there anway...

    The problem with stories like this is that it creates the scenario that you see at NAMM every year where all the C and D-list musos are going round with their posse and body guards, acting like Billy two-sheds, trying to come across as the next big thing, hassling journos to interview them, signing deals with any crap company that'll offer them exposure and generally proving why they are D-list.

    Meanwhile, the 'legends' of the instrument - Lee Sklar, Abe Laboriel, Joe Osborn, and some of the newer players like Matt Garrison are just hanging out, chatting, answering questions, catching up with friends, and impacting people with their music and personalities, not the amount of gold that their minders are wearing!!!!

    It doesn't have to be that way. There's a different model for success that measures things in a personal way, that looks at the integrity of your own journey. Interestingly, it's the same thing that Michael does when he's interviewed, and it's what Howard alludes to above in his desire to play bass not be a star...

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    An interesting subject! I think that "in theory" it should always be about playing for the music's sake.

    But I have always taken it for granted that whenever I get up to play - a fair proportion of the audience - even more so if it is mostly musicians! - will be "ranking" me as a player. So like - he's OK, he's rubbish, he's not as good as me etc etc .

    I do this all the time to trace my development - so I only started playing Jazz a few years ago and at first I had no idea what was required and it was strange to be a beginner again after havings played for so many years.

    So , I have taken part in loads of workshops/classes with other musicians as well as going to loads of Jazz gigs. While doing so I am always thinking about : what is the bassplayer doing that I can't and need to work on? Can I play as well as that - what areas do I need to "catch up"

    The competitive element keeps me practising and trying to get better and it is something that has been mentioned by lots of teachers. So - "if you improve in this area or do this, you will get to be first call for gigs" That sort of thing.

    I mean they aren't saying - you should play more notes than Jaco per minute! ;) But rather - if you can maintain a good feel, swinging walking lines and inspire soloists to play, are sympathetic to what's going on around you etc etc - people will want to play with you and you will get the gig!

    But as you get better, you notice that Jazz soloist are competing in many subtle ways - use of different scales, implying chord substitutions, playing "against" the stated time, developing motifs and ideas, - there are loads of things that wil be used to rank you as a musician - is he "hip to this"?

    I got interested in Jazz because this seemed to be an area of music where people are constantly trying to push themselves to improve as musicians, rather than just following fashions or trying to come up witha new "gimmick".

    Given this striving for growth and development, I think a bit of healthy competition is alright and is accepted as part of the game - certainly the audiences I have been part of, accept that there is freindly rivalry and will have their favourites and can justify why "xxxx xxxx" is the best tenor player in Britain at the moment!! ;)
     
  18. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Except that even that isn't neccesarily true. I don't know any musician who originally got hired just because they were good. We get lucky, bump into someone at a gig or in a pub, or the gig's with a friend of a friend. Being good will keep you a gig but it won't get you it in the first place. You get the gig by being a nice person. That's why the ass-hole on the gig is nearly always the band-leader. No-one wants to work with a dickhead, but if they are paying you, you put up with it. If you're paying them, it pretty much doesn't matter how good they are...

    oh, and I've heard a million different opinions on who's the best tenor player in the UK at the moment - my favourite is Ben Castle, but there's no such thing as best... :)

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think there's a bit of both in the Jazz world. I often notice at Jazz gigs there are other pros in the audience "checking out" players, without necessarily talking to them.

    Also, at the Jazz Summerschool I attend each year, I noticed that one of the tutors picked up a rhythm section for a recording, from amongst the students who were present that year! But it's impossible for me to know how much was being impressed by their musical skills as opposed to their social skills.

    I do agree though, that you have to be friendly, approachable and fairly positive or people won't want to work with you for long - at least until you attain "legendary" status!! ;)

    But I suppose what I am saying is that being friendly, positive, approachable, likeable even, is not incompatible with being extremely competitive.
    So - people like to be challenged and have new ideas thrown at them, they like people who are driven by strong desires. Some of the most charismatic people are also those who are driven by a strongly competitive nature.
     
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well I mentioned this because if you ask Jazz audiences, Bobby Wellins will come pretty high on the "favourites" lists.....;)